Adjournment: A tale of two cities.

Adjournment: A tale of two cities.

House of Representatives

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As a kid at Canley Vale High School, one of the books we had to read was the Charles Dickens classic A Tale of Two Cities. As a member of parliament representing the community where I grew up, I see another tale of two cities, which is nothing like the Dickens story of 18th-century London or revolutionary France, but it is serious and it’s getting worse. I’m talking about the difference in life and opportunity depending on where you live—the difference in life and opportunity in different parts of Australia.

I’ll give you an example. In the eastern suburbs of Sydney where the Prime Minister’s electorate is, things are pretty good. Unemployment is low, at 1½ per cent. But if you go just over 20 kilometres away to my electorate, it’s a different story. In Bankstown, the heart of my electorate, unemployment is currently at 11½ per cent. It’s more than double the national average and about eight times what it is 20 kilometres away in the Prime Minister’s electorate. It’s the same story when it comes to how much people earn. In Vaucluse, in the Prime Minister’s electorate, the average wage is more than $120,000, but in Auburn, in my electorate, it’s less than one-third of that. It’s less than $37,000. It’s the same story when it comes to getting a pay rise. There hasn’t been a lot of that in the last few years, but some people are doing better than others. In the Prime Minister’s electorate, the average worker’s salary has gone up by about $18,000 in the last ten years, but, in my electorate, it’s only about a quarter of that. And it’s the same story when it comes to the tax cuts passed last week. Some people are going to benefit a lot more than others. In Auburn, the average worker will get an extra $3.80 a week. In Vaucluse, the average worker will get an extra $39 a week—10 times as much. I repeat: $3.80 extra in Auburn and $39 a week extra in Vaucluse.

That’s what I mean when I’m talking about a tale of two cities—two towns that are barely 20 kilometres apart, but they might as well be on different planets, and they’re growing further apart every day. And it’s not unique to Sydney. You see this in other cities in Australia; you see it right around the country. It’s not good. We’ve seen in the United States what happens when this sort of gap between rich and poor grows bigger. How do we turn it around? You don’t do it by cutting penalty rates. In electorates like mine, more than 11,000 people rely on penalty rates to pay the bills and put food on the table, and, this weekend, penalty rates are going to be cut again. That just makes things worse. It increases the gap between richer and poorer Australians.

If we’re going to turn around this the tale of two cities and build a fairer country, then education is the key. As Paul Keating once said, ‘Education is the key that opens every door.’ But here’s the problem: at the moment, kids from low-income families like those in my electorate are on average 2½ years behind kids from high-income families by the time they get to year 9, and only one in four kids from low-income families go on to university compared to two-thirds of young people from wealthy families. If education is the key to fixing the problem that I’m talking about here tonight, then it’s not working—or, at least, it’s not working as well as it could. We’ve got to make sure that more young people from places like my electorate go on and finish high school, go on to TAFE and get an apprenticeship or go on to university. What the government are doing at the moment is only making that harder. They’ve already cut more than $2 billion out of our universities. They’ve cut $3 billion out of TAFE, and, as a result, there are 140,000 fewer apprentices and trainees today than there were five years ago. And they’ve cut $17 billion out of our schools.

The Senate is going to vote soon on whether we should give the big four banks a $17 billion tax cut. If they pass those cuts, it shows just how out of touch this government is. Instead of giving the big banks a $17 billion tax cut, we should be putting that $17 billion into our schools in places like Bankstown and places like Auburn. That’s the best way to build a fairer society, the sort of place where postcode doesn’t determine opportunity. And that’s exactly what we’ll do if Labor win the next election.


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